The expression “breathtaking”, as a rule, conveys an extreme degree of emotional experience. So they say, when feelings are difficult to express in words, it seems that even air is not enough, it is difficult to catch your breath - the person is so amazed by what is happening.
As a rule, the expression “captures the spirit” in modern language is used to describe some strong positive emotions, for example, “the spirit was captured with delight”. Close in meaning to this expression is another, more archaic "breath stolen". So, I immediately recall the words from IS Krylov's fable "The Crow and the Fox": "From joy in the goiter the breath stole …".
But even for strong negative experiences this statement can be used: "It's so scary that it takes your breath away!"
In fact, the feeling of lack of air, the feeling that it is difficult, almost impossible to breathe is a natural reaction of the body to severe stress, it does not matter whether it is caused by positive or negative events. Doctors call this condition one of the manifestations of hyperventilation syndrome (HVS).
Often, DHW is one of the signs of vegetative dystonia, a symptom accompanying panic attacks.
For the first time, hyperventilation syndrome was described in the 19th century. It was observed in soldiers who took part in hostilities. A severe stressful situation, a constant fear of death caused a feeling of inability to take a deep breath, a feeling of stiffness in the chest area, a lump in the throat and other symptoms.
In the 20th century, it was scientifically proven that the main cause of the "breathtaking" state (or hyperventilation syndrome) is nothing more than a state of severe stress, anxiety, excitement, and depression. Some scientists believe that there is a certain group of people most susceptible to developing this condition. These are those who suffered from shortness of breath in childhood - their body from an early age was "accustomed" to react in this way to a stressful situation. In addition, as a rule, these are people with a hysterical personality, emotional and artistic, inclined to exaggerate their emotional reactions.
Here it is necessary to distinguish between hysteria as a mental illness and a hysterical accentuation of the personality, which is not a mental disorder, but predisposes to the development of HVS.
But this does not mean at all that a person who is not predisposed to hyperventilation syndrome is insured against experiencing this condition at least once in his life. It can occur in almost any person in a state of strong emotional stress.
This condition arises due to the peculiarities of the physiology of human respiration. The fact is that breathing is a process that is regulated both at the unconscious and at the conscious level. A person does not need to constantly control the process of his breathing, nevertheless, he is quite capable of doing this, for example, to start breathing deeper, slower or, conversely, faster.
Under severe stress, the normal breathing program fails, its frequency, depth, etc. change. A person in a state of extreme emotional arousal seems to “forget” how to breathe correctly. As a result, the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs is disturbed, which leads to a violation of the normal acidity of the blood, as well as a change in the content of such substances in it as magnesium, potassium, etc.
It is these physiological changes in the body that lead to the emergence of symptoms that a person can define with the words "breathtaking".